Cooking at home can be healthy and fun without being time-consuming. Canned and frozen foods are healthy additions to fresh foods!
Hi. Still on COVID-19 lockdown for what seems like day 3,645? Samezies. Hadn’t cooked at home in light years and have been eating three (million) meals a day sitting in the same spot for a month? Bored of the same menu? I. GOT. CHU. Let’s talk healthy pantry and freezer staples, with links to some of my favorite recipes.
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It’s Not Going to Be Perfect
Let me lead with: it’s not going to be perfect. You’re probably stress eating. You’re probably bored eating. Relax and give yourself some grace. No one has been through this before and your impulse quarantine snacks should become less novel over time.
Healthy Eating During Quarantine
I recommend eating all of your fresh produce and proteins first before digging into your pantry and frozen foods. That way you will *for sure* have food in case of empty shelves, shut down, real emergency or loss of power (cue Utah’s recent earthquake with 73,000 homes and businesses out of power).
Canned, Frozen and Fresh are All Healthy Options
Canned fruits and vegetables are nutritious! You don’t need to be afraid of these, global pandemic or not. I wrote more about the nutrition behind canned foods here but the quick and dirty is this: research shows the nutritional differences between canned, frozen and fresh foods are negligible (1).
I do recommend choosing frozen fruits and veggies with nothing added (just read the ingredient label), canned fruits packed in 100% juice or light syrup (surprisingly, the sugar content once drained is not really higher – the juice or light syrup essentially help the fruit maintain its natural sugar content rather than it leeching out) and choosing no added salt or low sodium veggies. Keep in mind in case of long-term, real emergency, you might be in a position that you need that salt (our bodies require salt and if overall food intake is low it could be a problem) so I have some regular on hand too; you can always rinse regular salt-content canned veggies prior to heating up to drop another ~50% of the sodium.
Most importantly, get (primarily) foods you would typically eat anyway.
Healthy Frozen Staples
Here are some of the frozen staples I have on hand:
- frozen broccoli,
- frozen peas and carrots (sounds weird but not a bad addition to mac ‘n cheese in case of emergency),
- frozen chicken breast,
- frozen ground beef (three ways to thaw it here),
- frozen pie crusts (great for quiche – here’s my quiche florentine recipe),
- frozen pizza crusts (my fave homemade pizza here and I really like these Midtown pizza crusts at HEB),
- frozen waffles (these Blueberry Buckwheat from Central Market are my favorite or Kashi) and
- a myriad of frozen fruits (try this yummy strawberry banana smoothie here).
- I also keep extra bread and shredded cheese in the freezer just in case.
Healthy Pantry Staples
What’s great about healthy canned foods is they are stackable (bless you) and can be kept on hand for prolonged periods of time if needed. If you have some leftover after this mayhem has passed, congrats! Keep it for the next rainy day.
Canned proteins I have on hand are:
- Canned tuna,
- canned shredded chicken (great for curry chicken salad – canned chicken, yellow curry powder (use more than you think you need), very thinly sliced apple and bell pepper),
- canned beans,
- peanut butter (I wouldn’t rely on peanut butter for a full meal’s worth of protein but it does add some protein!),
- beef or turkey jerky – more expensive but is nice!
- a variety of nuts.
Personally I don’t love the flavor and texture of most canned veggies, so I mostly opted for:
- Canned green beans,
- canned pumpkin,
- artichoke hearts (good for salads or pizza),
- canned diced tomatoes (try these easy lean beef tacos),
- canned corn,
- diced green chilies,
- and these tri-color tomato wedges that are fantastic for caprese skewers and any other salad-type application (you can find them at Walmart and I’ve been to the tomato producer who makes them personally here in the US!)
Pantry Whole Grains
I’ve been living for the healthy whole grains I’ve kept on hand!:
- Cereal (I like Kashi Island Vanilla or Nature’s Path Organic Sunrise Crunchy Vanilla)
- Whole grain pastas
- Quinoa (I love this crockpot chicken quinoa primavera by Pinch of Yum)
- Brown rice
- Whole grain waffle mix (*Kodiak Cakes Buttermilk flavor is my fave)
Canned and Dried Fruits
I always keep:
- unsweetened applesauce,
- canned peaches in 100% fruit juice (or light syrup if the fruit juice ones are out!), and
- mandarin oranges in 100% fruit juice,
- dried cranberries (great for salads!),
- and dried apricots on hand.
- These super-soft dried mango are phenom (*Amazon or Costco) but pretty high in sugar so I’d recommend watching portion sizes!
Dehydrated fruit is also great to have but does run more expensive. This is a good brand you can find at your local grocer, or you can buy from
Flavor Builders + Others
It’s a good idea to keep shelf-stable or frozen flavor builders on hand to give your meals some life! Some I have on hand are:
- Pasta sauce
- Pesto (can freeze in an ice cube tray or see how to freeze on baking sheet here)
- Green enchilada sauce (can make these chicken enchiladas and nix the herbs assuming you don’t have them)
- Pizza sauce
- Salad dressing (here’s a light raspberry vinaigrette I love)
- Soups – I love this lentil soup from Amy’s
- Mac ‘n cheese if you’re in a pinch! I like this on by *Annie’s Homegrown.
I’ve been keeping some kid snacks on hand. To avoid the “food fight” and limit they’re novelty, I let my toddler have one “packaged snack” food per day at her afternoon snack time after nap.
These are what I keep on hand:
- CLIF Kid ZBars
- Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars
- *Annie’s Cheddar Bunny and Bunny Grahams
- Pirate’s Booty
- Sometimes I make these homemade energy balls (I include the chia seeds) and cut the chocolate chips down to 1/8 of a cup
As always, I hope this post on healthy quarantine pantry and freezer staples was helpful for you! Up next I’ll be posting a roundup of favorite healthy quarantine meals me and my dietitian friends have been whipping up!